I first came across Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie over a decade ago when I read her debut novel Purple Hibiscus. I soon went on to read the heart-breaking Half of a Yellow Sun a couple of years later. Adichie is a powerful, informative writer and when writing my dissertation on black women writers i reread both of these books in quick succession.
Thus it was a rather long eight years before Americanah was published, however, as is often the case, the wait was certainly worth it. Unlike both Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun – which were set in post-colonial Nigeria and during the Nigerian-Biafran war respectively, Americanah’s opening scene is a summer’s day in Princeton.
The central character of the tale is Ifemelu, and the story intersperses between her childhood and adolescence that was spent in Nigeria – much of it with her childhood sweetheart Obinze – and her time in America where she spent several years as an ex-pat studying, working and falling in love, before returning to her home town.
As teenagers, Ifemelu and Obinze were inseparable – and when Ifemelu moves to America to study, Obinze vows to follow her. However, fate is not kind to Obinze and Americanah highlights a stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots as the story follows them both as they embark upon their new lives overseas.
Americanah is a beautifully written book. from an author who has brought something fresh to African fiction. For me, the most fascinating aspect of the novel was the political observation of race in America. From relaxing afro hair, to hostility against interracial relationships, to the huge impact Obama’s election had on black people across not only the US but the world at large, Americanah gives its readers an insight into a world where racial prejudice is still at large.
The perfect combination of poetic prose and politics with a love story at its core, Americanah is a truly brilliant book and has reinvigorated my love for African literature.